Hepatitis C is rarely transmitted through normal, day-to-day contact with other people. This section tells you more about possible transmission and the steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of transmitting hepatitis C in different scenarios.
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In order for hepatitis C (HCV) to be transmitted, there must be blood-to-blood contact. This means that the blood from someone with hepatitis C would have to get into the bloodstream of someone else.
The best way to reduce the chances of transmitting hepatitis C to others is to avoid behaviours which are considered higher risk.
If you use drugs, including performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids, ensure you do not share any equipment used to inject, inhale or prepare the drugs and use a new set of equipment each time.
Although less common, there are some other situations where people may come into contact with your blood. Simple precautions can be put in place to reduce the risk of transmitting hepatitis C when this happens.
Talk to your specialist care team if you have any concerns.
COuld I pass hepatitis c on to the people i live with?
People with hepatitis C often worry about giving it to people they live with. However, it is very hard to transmit HCV unless there is direct blood-to-blood contact.
Even though the risk is very low, there are simple steps you can take to help prevent passing hepatitis C on to the people you live with.
While you have or are being treated hepatitis C, you should:
- use your own personal hygiene products and keep them separate to those used by others (this includes toothbrushes, razors and hair and nail clippers)
- avoid sharing jewellery that pierces the skin, such as earrings or noserings
- avoid sharing needles, syringes, straws or any other recreational drug equipment with others.
Remember: hepatitis C cannot be transmitted by casual contact such as hugging, sharing food or using the same eating utensils as others.
It is normal to worry about those you love, but you should not let worry stop you from leading a normal life. If you are concerned, you can always call our helpline to speak to someone with personal experience of living with hepatitis C.
How can I clean up blood after an injury?
The hepatitis C virus can survive in both fresh and dried blood for several weeks.
Once you have dealt with your injury, you should check the surrounding surfaces to see whether you have spilled any blood. Remember that blood droplets can be very small so you should clean the surfaces and whatever caused your injury, whether you can see any blood or not.
To clean up after a blood spill, you should:
- put on a pair of rubber household or disposable gloves
- clean up any remaining blood with disposable paper towels
- use bleach or Milton Fluid to cover the area and leave to soak, following the instructions on the package
- clean the item that caused the cut (such as a kitchen knife) in the same way
- clean up the bleach and place the disposable towels into a bin.
Remember that to pass hepatitis C on, infected blood must get into the bloodstream of another person. Cleaning up in this way may help to put your mind at ease about protecting other people. However, if you start to feel anxious or worried about cuts and scrapes, you may want to speak to your specialist care team or call our helpline for support.
should i worry about sexual transmission?
Hepatitis C is rarely passed on during sex. Although the virus can be detected in bodily fluids – such as semen or vaginal discharge – it is at levels too low to be passed on to your sexual partner.
Research suggests that only 1 in 190,000 instances of heterosexual sexual contact leads to a hepatitis C transmission.
The risk of transmission during sexual activities is higher if one or both partners experience bleeding.
Bleeding can happen:
- during anal sex
- during rough vaginal sex
- if you or your partner have a sexually transmitted infection, ulcer or yeast infection
- when you or your partner is on their period.
The best way to reduce your risk of transmitting hepatitis C during sex is to use barrier contraception, such as a condom. Healthcare professionals recommend that you continue to use barrier contraception while you undergo treatment and until tests confirm that you have tested negatively for the virus.
If you have hepatitis C you should tell your sexual partner about it. This allows you to decide together if you are happy to take any risks and what precautions you would like to put in place before having sex.
Your partner can also ask their GP for a hepatitis C test to make sure that they have not already contracted the virus.
The rate of transmission for hepatitis C through sex is higher among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM), people who take part in group sex or chemsex and among men with HIV.
Find out more about how to look after yourself and others below:
The risk to gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) and other people who might have unprotected anal sex is higher than to the general population.
This is because anal sex can cause small tears around the opening of the anus. These tears can bleed, putting you at higher risk of contracting or passing on hepatitis C.
Other sexual activities considered to be the most high-risk for transmission include:
- Sharing sex toys that have been used anally
- Unprotected fisting
- Sex involving more than two people
- Chemsex (using drugs during sex: commonly crystal meth, GHB or GBL)
Engaging in two or more types of these sexual activities significantly increases the risk of transmitting hepatitis C.
Other activities – such as rimming and anal fingering – are not believed to increase the risk of passing on the virus.
You should always use a condom if you have or are being treated for hepatitis C until tests confirm that you no longer have the virus, or when you are having sex with a new partner.
Chemsex involves using recreational drugs as part of sexual activity with one or more partners in a session that can last up to several days.
Chemsex is considered a high risk activity for hepatitis C transmission. Risks present themselves if you share the equipment used to take drugs (needles, syringes, straws etc.) or through sexual activity where bleeding is likely.
The risk of sexual transmission under the influence of drugs is higher because sexual activity can last longer and because it is more likely that blood-to-blood contact can take place because of injuries obtained during these sessions.
The following sexual activities are considered high risk for transmission of hepatitis C:
- Unprotected fisting – cuts to the skin around the finger nails is very common, as is damage to the lining of the rectum
- Sharing tubs of lube or sex toys – the hepatitis C virus can survive up to 48 hours on the surface of a sex toy or in a tub of lube
- Anal sex with multiple partners
To lower your risk of contracting hepatitis C during chemsex, you should:
- Avoid sharing equipment used to take drugs
- Use condoms for anal and vaginal sex and latex gloves for fisting – make sure you use a new condom and latex glove for each partner
- Avoid sharing sex toys – at a minimum, you should cover anything which is shared between partners with a new condom for each new person it enters
- Avoid sharing tubs of lube
You should also remember that it is possible for you to be reinfected with the hepatitis C virus after you have completed treatment when you take part in high risk activities.
It is important for you to weigh up the risks of any activity where you could be exposed to hepatitis C again and decide what is best for your health.
Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men that are living with HIV are more likely to have hepatitis C than those who do not have HIV.
Research suggests that this might be because co-infection with HIV increases the viral load of hepatitis C. A high viral load increases the risk of you transmitting the virus to someone else when engaging in sexual activities such as fisting or anal sex without a condom.
If you are having unprotected or rough sex and/or you are using drugs, you are also more likely to come into contact with both of these blood-borne viruses.
If you are living with HIV and have a hepatitis C infection, then you must receive specialist care from a doctor who can treat both viruses together.
People living with HIV and hepatitis C co-infection can be treated with most of the same hepatitis C drug treatments as those who do not have HIV. The treatment is just as effective whether you have HIV or not.
Could I transmit hepatitis C to my baby?
Transmission from mother to baby is not common, but does happen.
About 5 in 100 babies born to mothers who have untreated hepatitis C will get the infection. A test to find out can be done once the baby is 18 months old.
Children can be treated for hepatitis C using a course of tablets. The success rate for treatment for children is 99%.
There is a specialist treatment network available in England to treat any children who do contract hepatitis C.
If you think you may have had hepatitis C while you were pregnant, let a healthcare professional know so that they can help you arrange a test for your child.